For a movie that’s essentially about a piece of hardware—the legendary Neve mixing console, an imposing slab of knobs and meters—this geeked-out documentary beats with more heart than could be imagined. Then again, a drummer is behind the camera: Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl, who returns to the recording site of Nirvana’s pounding Nevermind to gawk at all the magic that happened in one trashed room in Van Nuys, California (the Valley town better known as the porn capital of the world). Founded in 1969 in a former box shop, Sound City Studios was blessed with gorgeous, natural acoustics (that you can actually hear) and a client list that included Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty, Rick Springfield and scuzz-metal heroes Ratt, among others.
All come back to chat with Grohl, a preternaturally fun and accessible interviewer: The beautiful thing here is the way Sound City enlivens some fairly snobby ideas about the glories of analog tape without resorting to mere mansplaining. Instead, we see bands working on their chops, hear tales of practicing tunes until they were exactly right and even consider an opposing point of view from Trent Reznor, a friend of the future who still loves the old school. The film doesn’t really need its let’s-record-a-new-album finale; none of the later music sizzles anyway. Grohl’s already earned his bona fides for serving up the rarely examined subject of “good ears” and saluting a tech-savvy fellowship of engineers who bonded around a love of tactile craft.
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